Indiana already has a law banning gay marriage, complete with criminal penalties for pastors who perform same-sex rites, but that's not good enough for state Republicans. Prodded by right-wing religious groups such as the good Christian folks at the Indiana Family Institute, GOP legislators voted overwhelmingly in 2011 for an anti-gay constitutional amendment and are now mulling a second and decisive vote.
It's a mighty special amendment. Not content merely to limit the legal benefits of marriage to hetero couples, it comes with extra added venom to outlaw any "legal status identical or substantially similar to that of marriage for unmarried individuals." Together with criminal penalties already in the law, this would make Indiana the state most like Russia when it comes to gay oppression.
Like Russian ruler Vladimir Putin, Gov. Mike Pence and his religious right allies are betting the populace will back them. "The future of marriage belongs in the hands of voters," says Micah Clark, executive director of American Family Association of Indiana. But why just marriage?
The proud social conservatives of Indiana might as well git r done all in one vote. For starters, they can add official recognition of the state's Ku Klux Klan heritage, now moldering in a Historical Society bin. They can restore Bible-based anti-miscegenation laws, which outlawed interracial marriage. (Indiana distinguished itself as the only Northern state to keep such a law on its books well into the 1960s.) Turning to the present, they can also rehabilitate White History Month, which the (lately defunct) Indiana University White Student Union attempted to establish earlier this year.
But why not go the whole hog, Hoosiers? Just add White Supremacy to the anti-gay amendment. Since multiple studies link right-wing social conservatism with old-fashioned racism, it's bound to be a crowd-pleaser.
Oh, wait a moment. Could we possibly be confusing a crowd-pleaser with authentic democracy? Maybe Micah Clark was snoozing in civics class when the teacher went over "majority rule, minority rights."
As the great 19th century expounder of American democracy Alexis de Tocqueville observed, simply giving the majority absolute power is no better than living under a dictator. Without constitutional and institutional constraints on the reach of the majority, 51% could vote to enslave everyone else.
The Founding Fathers well understood the threat that John Adams called a "tyranny of the majority." Chief among their concerns was to divide up power among institutions that could keep checks and balances on one another. Of course, they were stuck with a pre-existing system of slavery, and it very nearly scuppered the Constitution. But eventually and at enormous human cost we got past "the Peculiar Institution," and in my lifetime first the courts and then the Congress made legal equality a reality in the lives of most Americans.
Great progress, to be sure, but for America to leave any of its citizens out of the circle of legal equality now would be just plain wrong. So, let's either go back to the days of legalized racism, segregation, and sexism, or let's move ahead. Martin Luther King said, "The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice." I believe that to be true, but if the retrograde forces of Old Time Religion hold sway, justice may have to bend around Indiana awhile longer.